Authentic Wisdom: Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain

~ 02 November 2004 ~

Recipe for a Creative Workspace

By Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain URL Email

After hiring my first employee a couple months back I was in desperate need of a new desk that could seat the two of us comfortably. The style of desk I was looking for ending up being close to $3,000. About $2,800 more than my budget.

Before/After photographs

Alas, I stole some “inspiration nodes” from the desk I had my eyes on and decided to build one myself.


Desk blueprint

I started by mapping out my floor plan in Adobe Illustrator and then created all of my existing office furniture to scale. I used a simple ratio of 1 inch = 1 mm, which seemed to work pretty good. I tried a couple of different layouts and finally decided on the one included in the download file below.

Laying it out first in Illustrator allows you to figure out how much wood you are going to need and how to make slight alterations to your desk to trim material costs. By shaving a few inches off the depth of my desk I was able to fit it all on two sheets of plywood.

Ready to start?

Below I’ve compiled a list of materials and tools that I used to build my creative workspace. The whole project ended up being around $250 when I was done, and basically took me a week to do. (I continued to run the business out of a spare bedroom upstairs.)


  • 2 sheets of 4’ × 8’ × ¾” finished plywood (birch)
  • ¾” pre-glued veneer edging (birch)
  • Table legs from IKEA
  • 1 can of Minwax Polycryllic
  • Lots of sandpaper
  • Desk grommets for cord wire management

Tools Needed

  • Skill saw (make sure to use a sharp plywood blade!)
  • Jig saw
  • Drill
  • Household iron (check with wife first)
Full desk arrangement

Basic Tips & Advice

  • Let Home Depot slice the bread. Most Home Depot stores (and other major hardware stores) have a huge vertical saw that’ll cut through plywood with minimal splintering. I didn’t realize how good of a thing this was until I made a cut with my skill saw and butchered one end of the desk. If you can’t get Home Depot to make the major straight cuts, invest in a new plywood blade… makes a huge difference.
  • Use a sharp hole saw drill bit. I borrowed a hole saw from my father, and not only did it take 45 minutes to “burn” a hole through my desk, but I also killed my brand new drill in the process.
  • Measure twice, cut once. Simple advice imparted to me early on by my father.
  • Close-up showing edging The devil is in the edging. Applying a pre-glued veneer edging with an iron is super easy and makes a huge difference. I picked up a roll of 50’ of the stuff for around $10 at Home Depot. I had never used it before, but the “iron on” instructions seemed simple enough. Just be sure any corners on your desk aren’t too tight, as you may have a hard time getting the iron in there (my chair cutouts were just a little too tight). After completing my desk, I saw a tool in a Lee Valley catalouge that actually trims the excess veneer off. A palm sander works well, too.
  • Finishing touches take time. I used a pre-stain wood conditioner to make sure the grain would be fairly consistent on the surface of the desk. I didn’t really want my desk to look like a piece of plywood, but rather something you’d find at IKEA. I have no idea if the conditoner really helped or not, but I was lucky enough to get the look I was going for. After the conditioner I added four or five coats of polycryllic, and it probably could have used more. Don’t rush this part… you’ll kick yourself later if you do.
  • Don’t forget anti-glare positioning. When positioning your workstation make sure to factor in any windows and the direction the sunlight filters into the room. You’ll want to keep your monitor facing the opposite direction. Or break out the wallet and invest in some blinds.
Close-up showing Apple Cube

Wrapping up

What designer doesn’t see a completed project and spot things that could have been done differently, better, easier, etc? I’m no different. So if you have any additional tips, suggestions, or even photos of your own workspace, please share.


Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain is the owner of 31Three and will be happy to receive any Google points he can get from that link. Jesse resides in Ontario, Canada, and reminds the Yanks that his latitude is approximately equal to that of California.


Veer Veer: Visual Elements for Creatives.
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1   marko ~ 02 November 2004 at 08:09 AM

This looks great, but i suggest you push your monitors more in those corners, so you can also put keyboards more distantly from the edge of the table. Your elbows will be thankful :)

2   huphtur ~ 02 November 2004 at 08:21 AM

- Way too much light. Or do you work at night?
- And yes, push monitor/keyboards more back. CTS is a b**ch.

3   Jeff ~ 02 November 2004 at 08:54 AM

That desk looks great. I’ve been wanting to build something like that for my home office, but a lack of tools and funds has kind of slowed the process.

4   Gabriel Mihalache ~ 02 November 2004 at 09:06 AM

Home entrepreneurs rock! I want my own company at home too! F**k big corporations! Awesome tips too, but I’m bad with tools.

I heart skipped a beat when I say a update, imagining it was about web design, but hey… at least it’s not about the election 8^)

5   Johnw ~ 02 November 2004 at 09:10 AM

As the cliche goes, you have WAY too much time on your hands.

A floor plan in Illustrator? Links to materials?

= \

6   GaBuBu ~ 02 November 2004 at 09:14 AM

A-M-A-Z-I-N-G post

7   Tom DeForest ~ 02 November 2004 at 09:19 AM

I wish I had known earlier. I would have sent you this handy little link.

But think of it this way: now you have a scale model of your office in Illustrator. That will definitely be useful in the future…I’m sure.

8   Carlos Porto ~ 02 November 2004 at 09:27 AM

Very nice! I made a desk over a year ago using similar techniques. The best part of the project is getting the satisfation that you created it. Plus, its easier on the wallet. Great work!

9   Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain ~ 02 November 2004 at 09:29 AM

I’m feeling the CTS burn right now actually. One thing I wish I did was make the corner openings a little bit more narrow so my elbows could sit on them a little easier. As it is I just use my chair arm rests.

I did put up some blinds after these photos were taken, because as you can see… there is a lot of natural light in the office.

The links the to the materials was just me being an overachiever (this being my first ever blog post and following Cameron is not the easiest). The illustrator floor plan was actually super useful… and I figured it wouldn’t be a real authentic article without a download of some sort.

10   Cameron Moll ~ 02 November 2004 at 09:29 AM

Please read: I generally avoid replying to comments on guest articles, but this discussion is all over the place.

  • First, recognize that *I* invited Jesse to guest author here on Authentic Boredom. He graciously accepted the invite, so please be respectful of him and any future guest authors.

  • Second, how is mapping a floor plan and adding links to materials too much time on one’s hands? Who in their right mind wouldn’t create a detailed plan for a desk the size of Jesse’s? I’m having a hard time understanding how you *can’t* afford the time to plan before building.

11   Cameron Moll ~ 02 November 2004 at 09:30 AM

lol, Jesse, looks like we hit the ‘Fire’ button at the same time…

12   Jeff ~ 02 November 2004 at 09:57 AM

I’m intrigued by the finishing, but the natural light doesn’t offer a good look at it. Any—more detailed—images of this so I can have a good look!

Also, dig your floors. Beautiful. Real Wood?

13   Nathan Logan ~ 02 November 2004 at 09:59 AM

Very cool. I love seeing projects like this.

Also, thanks for including your methodology - it will undoubtedly come in handy in the future!

14   Ray ~ 02 November 2004 at 10:21 AM

I can’t believe you created such a large (and very nice!) desk for just $250! Thanks for the links to materials and the desk blueprint download. I do have a question, though. You said the plywood was just 3/4” thick. And so is the veneer edging. But looking at the pictures of the finished desk, it really seems the desk is much thicker. Is it a trick on the eyes, or did you do something to give it a thicker (and more expensive) look?

15   Jacob Rask ~ 02 November 2004 at 11:18 AM

This is just awesome! I’ve actually had serious plans to build a desk myself soon. I will return to this article, thanks :) (and very well done!)

16   Mike ~ 02 November 2004 at 11:37 AM

Damn, you’re a crafty guy!

Fantastic job on the table, it looks amazing.

17   Tom DeForest ~ 02 November 2004 at 01:15 PM

Sorry, I wasn’t trying to be offensive, just funny. But I do hope the link I posted is useful in the future.

18   Neil ~ 02 November 2004 at 01:47 PM

I bought a desk my local council were throwing out. Total bargain at 20 quid.

It weighs about 250 pounds, has a solid metal frame with a hideous plastic teak effect top which is scratched and stained from years of hard use by faceless local authority automotons.

I love it.

19   Cameron Moll ~ 02 November 2004 at 01:48 PM

No, you’re fine, Tom. Thanks.

20   shua ~ 02 November 2004 at 02:06 PM

I kept running into the same issues in terms of my needs for a two computer desk/workspace only being met by $2000-3000 solutions. (And even those options weren’t quite perfect.) A few trips to Home Depot later… I work on perfection everyday and it cost me $200.

Oh, and I layed out my whole office in Illustrator before I bought or made the first piece of furniture. You’re not alone in your planning habits.

21   Devin ~ 02 November 2004 at 03:56 PM

Jesse! Thanks for the amazing article covering your newly improved office! I appreciate the thorough detail in which you provided. Thanks to Cameron for allowing such a wonderful guest writer! I love this site! Thanks!

22   Bob ~ 02 November 2004 at 04:16 PM

I’d also like to see some more detailed photos of the desk and general work area. For those of us fortunate to have a specific room at home for all our gear, it’s nice to see how others handled their room’s needs. And since we’re all designers, we can borrow the good bits from one person’s design and merge it into our own… ;-)

23   Alexis Bellido ~ 02 November 2004 at 04:53 PM

Amazing! Congratulations Jesse for your nice home office and beautiful desk, and thanks Cameron for inviting a friend with such original idea for a post.

I am building my new house, brick by brick, actually is the first one, and I hope to have my work space really organized too.

Actually my home office was the first part of the house that was built, I also have two windows and plan on having a desk with two computers, my wife’s and mine.

We all live of this stuff and deserve having comfortable and nice spaces to do our work :)


24   Olly Hodgson ~ 02 November 2004 at 05:17 PM

Jesse - get yourself a second monitor for each machine. Photoshop in particular is *soo* much better with twich as much screen space to work with :-)

25   Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain ~ 02 November 2004 at 05:43 PM

Thanks for all the kind words.. much appreciated

Unfortunately I don’t have any shots of the surface of the desk and right now I don’t have a surface that isn’t covered with paper and clutter. It came out really well though, very similar to what you would see in ikea (the surface anyway), with very minimal grain.

Oh.. good eye Ray. On the underside of the desk I mounted some 1/2” MDF boards to make the desk appear thicker. I inset them a bit so that I wouldn’t hae to worry about making the edge super thick. It gives it a little bit more stability too.

Olly, neither of my machines can power an external monitor. I have a 700mhz eMac and a 450mhz cube. I had two monitors at a previous job and actually didn’t really like it that much… found that was mousing too much. That’s my excuse anyway.

Anyone got any photos of their workspaces? I’d love to see what this “blogosphere” works on.

26   Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain ~ 02 November 2004 at 05:51 PM

whoops… spoke too soon. I found some more photos that kinda show the workspace a bit better and the surface of the desk…

Sorry for just throwing them in a directory.

27   Lachlan Hardy ~ 02 November 2004 at 05:57 PM

That is a great desk! I have a similar setup in my office but it takes three desks - one of which a huge old worktable from a school staffroom, graffiti-coated and great)

However, I am just in the process of finishing the bookshelf that covers the entire rear wall (except for the door). It should be finished before the weekend. It cost me $300 of pine, stain, filler and sealer and a week and half solid work for two, but it is beautiful and huge!

I planned mine out on paper though… I guess I’m just not geek enough!

28   Fernando L Dunn II ~ 02 November 2004 at 06:51 PM

Cameron, this is an awesome post.

I’ve always been a sucker for a good demonstration. That desk was nicely executed. Who needs the real thing when you can make your own for thousands of dollars less?

You should have your own show on HGTV. Seriously ;)

29   Fernando L Dunn II ~ 02 November 2004 at 06:54 PM

I forgot to ask one thing though… that wooden chair cannot possibly be comfortable. It has to be worst than this kitchen chair that I’m sitting in right now.

30   Phil Wilson ~ 02 November 2004 at 07:30 PM

Awesome post, just what I was looking for. I’ve been going through the IKEA catalog for affordable office solutions. This, together with my father’s handyman skills, should provide an even more affordable solution. The list of goods required is handy as well. It all adds that professional finished look.

Excellent article from a guest host and fellow Canuck.

31   Adrian Gonzales ~ 03 November 2004 at 12:23 AM

Gasp! Is that a mac cube? I thought those were a extinct. :D

Cameron, your impecible taste in design runs over into interior design. Excellent article.

32   Kyle ~ 03 November 2004 at 01:17 AM

Nice post. I had a similar desk in my old computer room before I moved out.. it was nice. I always like those corner spots. I’m really diggin’ your setup though. Only downside is I’d never get work done, I’d end up staring out the window too much :p

I’d love to get a nice workspace going on some day. After I get a house of my own… a few years from now :)

33   Bruno Figueiredo ~ 03 November 2004 at 06:32 AM

Good Post, Cameron! I just didn’t liked the remark “check with your wife about the iron”. Kind of sexist, donĀ“t you think? I’m married, and still, I iron our clothes as much as my wife. She’s not my personal slave.

34   Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain ~ 03 November 2004 at 06:57 AM

Sorry if I offended with the iron remark. My wife is really into quilting and using her iron on a construction project is something I thought I’d run by her. Personally I don’t use an iron much (Did I mention I work at home?)

35   Cameron Moll ~ 03 November 2004 at 07:10 AM

Reminder: Jesse built the desk and authored this article, not me.

36   Bruno Figueiredo ~ 03 November 2004 at 07:20 AM

Yes, Cameron, I realized that now but It was already posted…

37   Dan Martin ~ 03 November 2004 at 08:00 AM

Personally, I love the fact the plans are shared online…It’s almost like an open source desk project that I will definitley partake in, seeing as though I am working from a glorified TV stand. Hard to get work done when you have no desk space.

38   Jason G ~ 03 November 2004 at 08:17 AM

I’m astounded! The desk looks great, it seems that you are quite the craftsman, Jessie….me on the other hand? I can make a nice PB&J, but that’s about it! ;)

39   Nic Johnson ~ 03 November 2004 at 08:48 AM

Great post. Really helpful where we’re building a house right now.

How did you find those drawers that seem to fit perfectly? Just curious.

40   Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain ~ 03 November 2004 at 09:19 AM

I built those shelves in there as well. When we moved into the house the office was full of huge pine shelves about 1-1/2” thick. I cut some of those up and measured out my printer and some small ikea boxes I had laying around and created the shelf to fit.

41   Jason G ~ 03 November 2004 at 09:37 AM

Gasp! Another Jason G a few comments up!

Anyway, this is good timing for me, since I can’t seem to find a desk I like and am growing tired of using my dining room table as a computer desk.

Thanks for posting this.

42   Kris Khaira ~ 03 November 2004 at 03:27 PM

Damn.. you’re crazy. Truly a DIYer.

43   Ray ~ 03 November 2004 at 05:46 PM

You know what I love best about the web. Articles like this. Everyone’s a handy man at heart. Nice peice of work all the way around Cameron, the desk and the article.

I’m in the (long) process of building a desk from one of our maples hurricane Juan knocked over last fall.

44   Ian ~ 05 November 2004 at 06:24 AM

Hi Cameron and Jesse. Good work on the remodeling and desk project Jesse! I wish I had time to do something like that. I have not heard from either of you on CHP in awhile. Both of you served as a great inspiration, we would love to hear from you sometime. Take care, hope all is well.

Ian—AKA: Daytonian

45   brian breslin ~ 05 November 2004 at 12:49 PM

just fyi, another semi-related project is Dan Cederholm’s transformation of a walk in closet to an office

46   Ben Vaughan ~ 05 November 2004 at 01:13 PM

Using the preconditioner definately helped with equalizing the grain in the wood. Basically, it closes or reduces the pores in the grain, so they hold less stain, thereby reducing the amount of pigment. Another method is to sand the surface multiple times, each time moving to a finer and finer grit. Regardless, I know you didn’t stain this, and kept it its’ natural tone, but it helped all the same. Great work! Now I feel silly for spending $800 on my huge IKEA desk(s) from their office collection.

47   Charlie ~ 09 November 2004 at 03:34 AM

I don’t see anything for playing music. Where’s the stereo!?

48   Shaun Gummere ~ 09 November 2004 at 08:52 AM

Great post, I always enjoy seeing these kinds of solutions. Designers and their workspaces are an interesting topic, given the overlap between the creative process and the environments we create around us. Jesse, in looking at those bigger pictures, I was curious to know where you got those metal cabinets (the ones with drawers on either side of your printer)?

49   Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain ~ 10 November 2004 at 06:23 AM

Those metal cabinets come from IKEA. I wouldn’t recommend them though as the drawers are super sticky and can be pretty sharp too (I cut my finger pretty good on one once).

The music? It’s all on iTunes.

50   Jamie ~ 16 November 2004 at 04:05 PM

How did you seam up the boards, I am making a desk with similar techniques and Im trying to figure out how to connect all the pieces together, Do I need to use the MDF underneath the seams or what please help.

51   matthew ~ 17 November 2004 at 04:54 AM

That’s some nice handywork, you must be proud.

52   lisa ~ 17 November 2004 at 12:44 PM

i LOVE the wall color.
what is it?

53   Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain ~ 18 November 2004 at 06:20 PM

The wall colour is called potato peal and I got it at Canadian Tire… it’s a Martha Stewart colour. The paint sucks… but the colours are nice.

54   Raja ~ 19 November 2004 at 12:02 PM

hey, Jesse, Cameron

Long time no see…

Good luck with your endeavours!

55   Cameron Moll ~ 19 November 2004 at 03:20 PM

Hey Raja, I was just on your site a couple days ago, seeking logo inspiration…

56   Joshua Hamilton ~ 11 December 2004 at 04:21 AM

There’s a friend of mine in school who is mapping her entire apartment out in Illustrator to scale. Full screen at 1024 x 768 it’s only at about 17% zoom… Additionally she’s going so far as to recreate patterns, items and other details like the individual keys on her Powerbook.

57   Kyle ~ 26 December 2004 at 10:38 PM

Great workspace! I love seeing and getting ideas on office space. Design translates into not only the concepts we create on screen, but also the space in which we create it… pimpin space ;)


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